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Punk publishing with author John Lake

I’m proud as punch to have a mate from my home city on the blog today. John and I are also proud to be waving the flag for northern voices in literature, having both been long listed for the John Lake 2Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker’ Prize. John is the author of the fantastic Amy and the Fox and one of the directors of the punk publishers Armley Press, based here in Leeds. I’m a huge fan of Armley Press and hope to work with them – in any capacity we can wangle – in the future. I like their ethos and the way they want to give the north a more prominent place in terms of literature. Enjoy John’s article below:

My Road to Armley Press – John Lake

In 2001 I finished writing a novel whose genesis went back a decade to when I’d been teaching in Greece. Now a London resident, I managed to bag an agent who kindly made me edit the hell out of it until we had something good on our hands. But times were tight (as always) and mainstream publishers, however much they said they loved it, were unwilling to take a risk on an unknown author like me… unless, of course, they were already a celebrity. Step forward, ‘novelists’ Katy Price, Alan Titchmarsh, Ann Widdecombe and legions of other literary geniuses that had somehow been hidden up to now by the limelight.

My novel, Hot Knife, was eventually published seven years later by a new ‘punk’ publisher, Armley Press, in my original hometown of Leeds, the setting for the trilogy that it became. Armley Press were scornful of the established media and publishing industry, with its distinctly southern, metropolitan bias, and it may only have been finding them that encouraged me to write any more books at all – I had a day job as a university teacher that kept my mind stimulated and paid the bills but left little time for writing. In fact, two of the books I went on to produce were written while I was off work convalescing from a serious medical procedure and with plenty of time on my hands.

Sometime later, my wife fell ill and did not recover. After her death in 2014 I quit my job and sold up in London to move back up north for the closer support of friends and fam

ily. I was retired now and intended to live a quiet life scribbling away at my books, stories and articles. Armley Press’s relative inertia concerned me, though, and I put it to its director, Mick McCann, that I’d be happy to help him find some new authors. After all, up to then, it was just him and me, and as good as we thought we were, surely there were others out there worth publishing.

Once we put the word out, submissions poured in, and before long I found myself becoming a director of the company – though all I actually did was just read and correct things, just as I had in my former life as a teacher! Within a year we’d set up a website (armleypress.com) and published new books by Ray Brown, Samantha Priestley, Chris Nickson and Nathan O’Hagan. Nathan’s book, The World is (Not) a Cold Dead Place, which had also been wooed then rejected by the London literati, particularly gathered attention, getting plugs on national radio and being lauded in some press quarters as a cult novel comparable to A Confederacy of Dunces. The roster has continued to grow since then, with David Siddall, K.D. Thomas, Mark Connors and M.W.Leeming joining the Armley Press Gang, which was mob-handedly represented at this summer’s Big Bookend ‘rock festival for words’.

Amy and Fox

You can order Amy and the Fox from Amazon by clicking here

So life in Leeds has not been as tranquil and hermitic as I expected. Instead, I find myself buzzing off to meetings, festivals and book launches up and down the land or spending long hard days inverting other people’s upside down apostrophes. (I also deejay, but that’s another story.) Not that I’m complaining. Armley Press now has ten authors where before it had two, we have a website regularly posting new stories and blogs, Hot Knife is optioned for film production and two of our books – Mark Connors’

Stickleback and my own Amy and the Fox – are on the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2016 long-list.

All achievements I can’t help but feel proud of, that have helped me through a difficult period of my life and, I hope, helped to champion the north as the home of quality literature in an egalitarian cultural environment.

You can vote for John’s novel in the ‘Not the Booker’ by clicking here

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